Augusta attractive to the homeless

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Under the 13th Street bridge, with the noise of cars barreling overhead and underneath a sign warning that poisonous snakes breed in the area, some of Augusta's homeless bed down for the night.

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Lugene Anderson, 61, gets a haircut from Augusta Tech student Mario Stevenson at the Salvation Army in Augusta. He considers himself lucky compared with many other homeless people. 
  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Lugene Anderson, 61, gets a haircut from Augusta Tech student Mario Stevenson at the Salvation Army in Augusta. He considers himself lucky compared with many other homeless people.

It's also the view Chris Shelton has from his backyard.

From his home in Waters Edge neighborhood on the Savannah River, Shelton said, he has a firsthand view of Augusta's homeless population. Across a few river rocks and over a chain-link fence rests his deck and small playground for his girlfriend's children.

With an economy still struggling to recover from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, local officials who work with the homeless say the have-nots are growing.

Lavond Reynolds, the men's director for Garden City Rescue Mission on Fenwick Street, said the homeless population is the highest he has seen in the past five years.

The mission is averaging about 60 men per night, and Reynolds said because of the heat, they won't turn anyone away right now.

"Even if we run out of beds we will put them on the floor," he said.

From his vantage point at the shelter, Reynolds sees a population that is dealing with the dual problems of a down economy -- particularly in the construction sector -- and long waits at the area's VA medical centers. He estimates that up to 25 percent of the area's homeless population are veterans -- many of whom who must wait for weeks, or even months, for treatment at the local medical centers.

Many of those men and women end up on the streets, he said. There is also an aging group of men who can't receive Social Security yet, haven't been retrained, and are "lost in the population."

Obtaining accurate numbers on Augusta's homeless population is difficult. Agencies count them differently. The city hasn't done a homeless count since January 2009, when it found 551 people in shelters. Even that is just a "snapshot," not a true census, city officials say.

There were 1,152 homeless people using the services of Augusta's Housing and Community Development Department from January to June 30, according to a department report. That is down by about 71 people compared with the first half of 2009.

The report, however, measures only people who come for services from the department's partners -- such as the Salvation Army and the Augusta Urban Ministries -- and is by no means an exact number, according to Vicki Johnson, the department's community development manager.

"There are so many homeless that just fall through the cracks," said Johnson, whose office distributes federal money to shelters and homeless organizations in the area.

Philip Bishop, the men's director for the Salvation Army, said part of the increase is because Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, Ga., closed its long-term facility devoted to patients requiring mental health services this year.

The closing came after concerns arose about the safety of patients and environmental problems at the facility. Many of those patients were relocated to community facilities, including about 30 patients who were sent to East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, according to a news release by the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Augusta.

Then there is the job market. For people with few skills, the lack of construction work is a serious problem.

Still, Bishop said the homeless population in Augusta seems to stay fairly steady from year to year. People are attracted to the area because of the many support services offered, the medical community, the relatively mild weather and the potential to find work.

"People come down here and they get stuck," Bishop said.

Johnson seems to agree.

Compared with the surrounding area, Augusta has a high concentration of soup kitchens, shelters and hospitals all within walking distance of one another.

"It is a huge factor," Johnson said. "Homeless people come to Augusta; they can get health care here. They can get food here."

She said the real problem, though, is lack of affordable housing. It's a myth that all homeless are unemployed. Many work low-paying jobs and simply cannot pay for housing.

"If you cannot afford the housing, you have no choice but being homeless," she said.

On a recent weekday, 61-year-old Lugene Anderson waited outside the Salvation Army on Greene Street for Augusta Technical College students to begin giving free haircuts. Lugene is an Augusta native and a Vietnam veteran. He once worked in quality control for Plant Vogtle and PCS Nitrogen Inc. before losing his job and succumbing to drugs and alcohol. He sports a blue "Jesus is my boss" cap and white stubble on his chin and says he is lucky compared with some of the guys: He collects a disability check -- which he uses to pay the $5 a night fee imposed at the Salvation Army for people who stay more than eight nights -- and he has health care through the VA hospital.

Anderson's friend, 49-year-old Jerry Rivers, from Warrenton, Ga., rolls up in a wheelchair -- his right leg gone from the knee because of a tree-cutting accident. Rivers said he came to Augusta because his social worker said he could get put into a Salvation Army drug and alcohol rehab program. That never happened. Now, Rivers has lived on the streets for seven months.

He stays at the shelter when he can and rolls his chair to a shady spot in the daytime to stay out of the heat. He needs another surgery on his leg soon but is worried about finding the money to pay for a hotel room where he can spend a few weeks recuperating.

Whether it's a result of an increase in homelessness in Augusta or simply desperation, Richmond County sheriff's deputies said they've received more reports recently of homeless panhandlers in the downtown area.

Deputy Shane Bailey said he wouldn't describe them as aggressive, but certainly more persistent.

Bailey has worked Broad Street for more than three years. He said most of the panhandlers he has encountered over the past month have blamed their persistence on unemployment.

"Most of the ones that I've talked to, is because they are out of work -- laid off with no means of income," Bailey said.

Amanda McDougald, 27, said she has witnessed it firsthand.

McDougald, a research associate for the Georgia Prevention Institute, was having dinner on the patio at the Pizza Joint a few weeks ago when a man walked up to her table and begged for a few dollars so he could get a bed at the Salvation Army.

McDougald said she usually doesn't give money to beggars but felt bad because it had begun to rain. She checked her wallet and found just $2 inside. She gave him $1. When the man saw that, he became more forceful and demanded she give him one more dollar.

"Basically, he was yelling and really angry about it and the owners came out and told him to go," she said.

The man then asked the very people kicking him out of the restaurant for money.

A week later, she was back at the restaurant and it happened again.

Sheriff's Lt. Scott Gay said his office has been receiving more calls from downtown property owners -- including Mellow Mushroom and Pizza Joint -- complaining about panhandlers on their property.

He said they have made some arrests for panhandling and continue to monitor the downtown area. Gay said often the homeless are transient, traveling from place to place to find areas that can address their needs.

"I think that they stay for a little bit then they move on," he said. "Homeless folks, they know how to network. They know good places to come and go."

Back at Shelton's home in the shadow of the 13th Street bridge, he said he's concerned that Augusta has become a magnet for the homeless.

Shelton said the men and women under the bridge don't necessarily bother him, but he worries about the attractiveness of Augusta as a city with so many of the destitute living wherever they can.

He estimates that there are sometimes as many as eight people staying under the bridge at one time. Shelton said that he wants to get a fence put up to block people from sleeping there but that he's been given the "runaround" by state and local officials who refer him to someone else every time he calls.

"No one wants to take ownership of it," he said.

After calling Augusta Commission member Matt Aitken, Shelton said, he was directed to officials at the Georgia Department of Transportation because the state owns the bridge.

In an e-mail, DOT Area Engineer Mike Keene said a fence wasn't feasible under the bridge because it would have to go all the way into the water to be effective at keeping people out. He said having it in the water was against their regulations and would do nothing to deter squatters.

Shelton said he also worries about the safety of his girlfriend's children, who play just a few feet away from where two men began a drug deal last week that Richmond County deputies said ended with one of them getting stabbed in the overgrown remains of the Augusta Golf and Gardens.

"Sometimes I don't want them out playing," he said. "I worry."

Comments (23) Add comment
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Bear - Lillian Smith
65
Points
Bear - Lillian Smith 08/15/10 - 01:19 am
0
0
If they are

If they are homeless....shelters are full, perhaps they have no family, "where" are they "allowed" to go? I'm just asking the question.

Has anyone ever wondered where it's legal to sleep outdoors if you're homeless?

I've often wondered....when the cops run the homeless off from park benches, where exactly are they running them to? Do they just move down a few blocks til the next cop runs em off? Do they spend every night doing this....in perpetual motion?

It's insanity....and the public wonders why so many of them are mental cases, losing touch with reality, much less any sense of right or wrong.

I'm aware some are there for reasons of their own making....and I have zero sympathy for them...but some are there for reasons which were beyond their control. I certainly don't have the answer, but I can think of "trillions" of tax dollars just handed to idiots that will never benefit the people who needed it the most!!!

Richmnd Cty Votr
1
Points
Richmnd Cty Votr 08/15/10 - 07:39 am
0
0
Its sad, and our country

Its sad, and our country sends millions of tax dollars helping other countries. What about these countries helping ours? Payback?

ispy4u
0
Points
ispy4u 08/15/10 - 07:45 am
0
0
Thank you Lillian Smith for

Thank you Lillian Smith for your post. " There but for the grace of GOD goes I". Cowards love to belittle and harass those that are less fortunate than we are.

CabisKhan
164
Points
CabisKhan 08/15/10 - 07:49 am
0
0
Is the Kroc Center to enlarge

Is the Kroc Center to enlarge the homeless bedding available in Augusta?

DAMY46
0
Points
DAMY46 08/15/10 - 08:06 am
0
0
No, the new Kroc Center will

No, the new Kroc Center will offer no help for the homeless.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 08/15/10 - 09:39 am
0
0
There are shelters in town.

There are shelters in town. Mr. Shelton is perfectly right to voice his displeasure with derelicts camped a few feet from his backyard with no bathroom facilities. Those people camping under the bridge are breaking the law. Goodness, people are being stabbed out there. Would anyone want a situation like that close to his or her home?

I'm assuming since there are shelters to sleep in at night and they can eat for free at the Golden Harvest and other places that the problem is where can they go in the daytime. That's the thing we need to be working on. A rudimentary place to stay on hot-cold days with bathroom, shower facilities and law enforcement nearby.

missaugusta07
9
Points
missaugusta07 08/15/10 - 09:52 am
0
0
I think it's sad when people

I think it's sad when people start saying it's they're fault that they are homeless if you have never been without,you are bless, so words like that are expected to come from someone like that,if Washington would stop handing out money like they pouring water,and what is the Croc center for anyway?and what is the tee center for?there is a lot of money being spent on ridiculous things here in Augusta,but yet people complain about about people that have no where to go...Mind how you speak the tongue is deadly it might be you next time under a bridge,we never know when it's our time..instead of complaining...HELP!HELP!HELP!C'mon now they are sleeping where dangerous snakes are breeding,and you don't care..When they take your blood at the Dr's office does it freeze up the tubes...Help us Lord!

Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 08/15/10 - 09:56 am
0
0
The problem with homelessness

The problem with homelessness is that we leave it to urban centers to pick up the tab, both financially and emotionally. This ends up destroying the strengths of the cities and results in flight of tax payers and businesses to outlying areas. The cities then rot from the core out. I would recommend a return to the concept that we move the resources away from the city core and put them in a rural encampment. If we can set up a tent city for hurricane or earthquake areas, why not for the homeless too?

The fact is most of the homeless are not economic casualties, but are
suffering from long term mental health and behavior conditions that
don't improve over time.

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 08/15/10 - 10:04 am
0
0
Do all you people realize you

Do all you people realize you are just a few paychecks from being homeless. Try making payments without a paycheck after you have used up all your savings. I agree we help third world countries in a moments notice but fail to help our own. We should provide more help for the homeless.

crackerjack
150
Points
crackerjack 08/15/10 - 10:18 am
0
0
I have bought a few homeless

I have bought a few homeless folks meals, that said they were hungry. I do NOT give them money!
When they move the prisoners from 401 to the country club, maybe the city can allow a non-profit use 401 to house the homeless and destitute. They can be searched before entering and when one of then act up, lock the door to their cell. And the city can take the write-off on their taxes. Just a thought.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 08/15/10 - 10:32 am
0
0
Junket831, makes good points.

Junket831, makes good points. They are homeless because in most cases they are mentally ill. Setting up large tents for them seems humane to me, too, if we do it for others who are homeless.

vetbubba99
6
Points
vetbubba99 08/15/10 - 10:35 am
0
0
Augusta use to have a task

Augusta use to have a task force that DID claim the homeless and help them all, vets, families and single men and women on the street, as where homeless went for help first, but that agency has not been active in a while. Without it, the homeless were left without a central place that they can all go as a first point for help. I disagree with you DAMY46, Kroc will be that new place. I don't think they will not have beds there but it will be the new first point where homeless go for help and where they can talk with agencies that can help them with information, meals, clothes, health concerns, food stamps and housing. Just hope after Kroc helps them, Kroc will transport them to where they need to go and not send them back onto the street. Vicki Johnson's office does have a homeless transport van that could help with this and I hope they will coordinate services. Salvation Army's bed facility on Greene Street should be able to sleep more men and women families when some of them move to Kroc but have not heard how freed up space from those that move and from St. Vincent health center moving out will be used-hopefully more beds?

AWyld1
3
Points
AWyld1 08/15/10 - 11:24 am
0
0
There should be no veterans

There should be no veterans living on the street...why do we pay for the constant welfare cycle and let even one vet live homeless? We have our priorities backwards. We should take care of the old, sick and veterans and make some of these sorry do nothing welfare cases get out and work...teach them a trade and cut off their public dole...this isn't rocket science but it is vote buying!!!

countyman
20631
Points
countyman 08/15/10 - 11:58 am
0
0
Alot of the homeless in this

Alot of the homeless in this country are veterans which is really sad...

Vetbubba99... The Kroc Center has nothing to do with the homeless... The Salvation Army isn't going to close their Greene Street facility... The Kroc Center is basically a huge YMCA.. Aquatic center, gym, ampitheatre, five-acre park on Augusta Canal, performing arts hall, etc.. The development also includes the First Stop Village (seven renovated houses) and Eve Street Row (five renovated houses)....

The First Stop Center being built near the Kroc Center, is a separate building and can be access by appointment only... The First Stop Center will offer poor and lower middle class residents help finding a job, housing, etc.....

MissAugusta07... The $100 million Kroc Center is all private investment.. Augusta and several other cities had to apply, and then wait to see if they were chosen or not... The Salvation Army didn't think Augusta would be able to raise the money needed to match Joan Kroc's gift, luckily Mayor Deke convinced them Augusta could raise the money...

Junket831
0
Points
Junket831 08/15/10 - 01:38 pm
0
0
Very few veterans that are

Very few veterans that are homeless are homeless as a result of their military service. They have real problems that are commonly shared by the majority of homeless individuals. Severe mental health problems, substance abuse, poor money management, lack of family support and inability to maintain gainful employment.

The government spends billions on reaching out and trying to help homeless and chronically mentally ill veterans, but the problem still persists. It will not go away with large increases in government spending. This is why I believe a different approach is needed as mentioned above.

Riverman1
87157
Points
Riverman1 08/15/10 - 02:23 pm
0
0
Countyman said, "The

Countyman said, "The Salvation Army didn't think Augusta would be able to raise the money needed to match Joan Kroc's gift, luckily Mayor Deke convinced them Augusta could raise the money..."

I've never heard the Salvation Army didn't think Augusta would be able to raise the money. As far as I know, they were always supportive of our possibilities and efforts. Are you sure about that?

Augusta is a tremendously generous city as evidenced by our efforts to give to NYC after 9-11. Our contributions were recognized by NYC Mayor Giulani.

da-realist
8
Points
da-realist 08/15/10 - 03:37 pm
0
0
Awyld 1 made a great point.

Awyld 1 made a great point. we have homeless vets on the streets but children having babies, get free food and living quarters and havnt done a darn thing but continue the cycle of lazy and handouts. Generations of welfare recipients not trying to do anything for themselves. I was on my way to work last week and passed a housing project. I saw eight youg girls all with strollers with kids in them. BEER IN THE OTHER HAND, HEADING BACK TO THE PROJECTS. This was 7:30 in the morning. Its disgusting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

baronvonreich
0
Points
baronvonreich 08/15/10 - 04:56 pm
0
0
It is only going to get

It is only going to get worse. Our government, via the taxpayers, are supporting tens of millions of people with welfare of all sorts (Section 8, EBT, SS, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, etc along with grants and handouts to shelters, soup kitchens and the like) at an unsustainable rate. The longer it continues and individual personal responsibility is minimized then the worse the impending effect of social Dawinism will be.

countyman
20631
Points
countyman 08/15/10 - 08:21 pm
0
0
Riverman1, the Salvation Army

Riverman1, the Salvation Army didn't think Augusta could raise the money... Remember most of the money was raised during the recession(after 2007)....

momster59
0
Points
momster59 08/15/10 - 09:16 pm
0
0
tumble - I agree with you for

tumble - I agree with you for many of them, but I would like to add get the mentally ill in mental facilities and on their meds.

charliemanson
1
Points
charliemanson 08/16/10 - 12:09 am
0
0
Between having their funds

Between having their funds siphoned off by crooks, jury awards, budget cuts, staff reduction, etc, it doesn't leave much out there to help the homeless, mentally-ill person.
________________________________________________

Former Georgia Rep. Robin Williams was convicted Thursday in U.S. District Court in Augusta on all charges of conspiring with four others to defraud an Augusta mental health center of more than $2 million.

The former CEO of Community Mental Health Center of East Central Georgia, C. Michael Brockman, was also convicted of health care fraud, as was pharmacist Duncan Fordham and lobbyists Rick L. Camp and M. Chad Long.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2005/05/05/met_452183.shtml
__________________________________________________
The jury deliberated less than three hours before finding that F. Campbell Peery was owed $202,000 from a settlement he received when he left the Community Mental Health Center in May 2001. Mr. Peery had put $165,000 of the settlement into an insurance policy in the center's name for tax purposes, and that was later seized by the center and liquidated in May 2006. The center claims the settlement was achieved through fraud. The jury also awarded Mr. Peery interest since May 2006.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2009/06/07/met_526752.shtml

______________________________________________________

With state budget cuts, Medicaid cuts and rate changes, the [mental health] center has lost about $900,000 this year.

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2009/06/07/met_526752.shtml

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